By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Brighton Head Baseball Coach Mike Wickersham has been challenging his player mentally since the summer.
Just two seasons ago, Brighton shocked District 13-3A by finishing first in the regular season with a young roster. The 2017 campaign was supposed to be the Cardinals’ time to fly high and take the tournament crown. But that was not the case as Brighton suffered heartbreaking defeat after demoralizing loss.
“I think we’re going to be OK,” Coach Wick said. “I’m pretty excited about the start of this year. We’ve got a different type of group, a different mentality. We’re a little younger, but they’re hungry. We’ve been going at it, working out since the summertime.”
Wick said the talent was there in 2016 and 2017. And a lot of those players are back. So the difference in 2018 has to be in the minds.
“That’s the key, we did a lot of mental stuff this past summer and fall,” he said. “And right now mentality this is probably one of the strongest mental teams I’ve ever had. The thing is we haven’t gotten into enough water yet. Our ship is still in the harbor.”
The Cardinal roster is composed of a freshman, four sophomores, eight juniors and seven seniors. Those 12th graders will be the bulk of the pitching rotation with ace Brett Wilkins. Wilkins has a district MVP and a college signing to Volunteer State already on his resume’. He will be the leader of a staff featuring Eli Davis (Arkansas State signee), Will Dunlap (Volunteer State signee) and Dylan Baskin.
“Probably the best rotation we’ve had here since I’ve been here,” Wickersham said. “We’re going to actually do something different because they’re all pretty good. We’re going like a regular staff. We’re going one through four. When their spot comes up, they’re throwing.
“The reason why we’re doing this, I learned from Coach Scotty Yount its going to take more than two guys to get out,” he continued. “He did that last year with his group. And I was so excited and proud for them. So we’re going to use more than two guys. We’re going to get four guys ready and when we get closer to the end, we’ll get them in order like we want to.”
Yount’s Munford Cougars used a deep rotation to reach the 2017 Class 3A State Tournament. Brighton’s rivals also added timely hitting and great defense to make their deep postseason run. Coach Wick said his group should be ready to play good defense all around the field.
“This group is a little bit better overall defensively,” he said. “We’re going to be relatively young out there.”
Wilkins and Brent Howard will split time at first. Dylan Forbes will see time at second ball. Also seeing action in the infield will be Sam Dunlap at shortstop and Baskin and Blane Lavell at third.
In the outfield, the speedy Davis will be in centerfield when he’s not on the mound. Dunlap will be the anchor in left field and teammates like Kimmey Johnson, Dawson Barkelew and Logan Rushing will be in the mix.
Behind the plate will be Logan’s big brother and Louisville commitment Dalton Rushing. Wickersham said the elder Rushing is the prototype slugger and catcher.
“His natural ability to play the game of baseball,” he said, he’s obviously a lot bigger than normal kids who are juniors. He has tremendous bat speed. And he’s doing a good job of learning how to call a ball game. I’m trying to let him try to start calling a game on his own.”
Rushing will be in the middle of the batting order behind hitters like Davis and Dunlap. Wickersham said the lineup one through nine will have to be mentally sharp in order to beat league foes like Munford, Dyer County, Hardin County, and Liberty.
Wickersham acknowledged the 2017 season left a sour taste in their mouths, losing 12 one-run games they were leading in the late innings.
“Mentally we’ve got to get over that,” he said. “It’s leading in the fifth and thinking you’ve got it all made in the shade. Not thing you know you’re shaking their hands congratulating them on winning the ball game. It was a big reality check for us.”
Part of Brighton’s reality check has been building team chemistry and cohesion to take on the 2018 season.
“We’ve broken this season down into four parts,” Wickersham said. “We have the offseason. It starts with that in the summertime. Then we’ve got the preseason. Then we’ve go the in-season and then there’s the postseason. We’ve got three sections right there that we’re trying to get ready for. We have to get ready for two games.
“They’re starting to realize they can’t turn it on in April for two games in May,” he concluded. “You earn that in the summertime when it’s hot, you’re fielding ground ball and you’re getting up early in the morning when you could be sleeping in. You’re lifting and trying to get stronger like the other teams that we’re playing. Next time we’re in that one-run game, they can fell like, ‘We deserve this game. We’re worked harder than any other team instead of just sitting back.’ We’ve really been instilling this mental part into them.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.